I grew up in a family with a lot of food allergies, so reading ingredient labels looking for random things like mushrooms, mint, carrots, and honeydew was just a part of life. It wasn’t until I discovered I had Celiac disease that things got interesting—so much to remember!
To my surprise, one of the most common questions I’m asked about being gluten-free and living with food allergies is how to read the ingredient labels on food. Some friends have told me that they don’t know how to tell what’s in their food, which makes the idea of being gluten-free seem downright impossible. While it is challenging, due to the fact that it’s require by law to post the ingredient list on food, it’s not impossible.
Here’s what to do:
1. Bring a list. It’s hard to keep track of all of your food foes when it’s still new, so bring a list. This will help to keep you from purchasing things you can’t eat.
2. Forget the “Nutrition Facts.” When you’re gluten-free or dealing with an allergy, all of the important info is to the right or below the “Nutrition Facts” (on the back of the box/container/can) in the “Ingredients” section.
3. Check the “Contains” or “Allergy Information” section. It should be right below the ingredient list, usually in uppercase letters, and it will often tell you if the product contains a common allergen or sensitivity (if it says it “may contain” something or “manufactured on equipment that also produces”, it means there are cross-contamination issues and you should avoid it).
4. Carefully read through the “Ingredient” section. Even if the “Allergy Information” section checks out, don’t stop there! A lot of ingredient labels, like the Peanut Butter Cheerio one below, doesn’t say if the food contains gluten. Don’t assume it’s okay until you’ve read everything. If you read through the “Ingredients” section on the Cheerios below, you can tell that it still has gluten because it contains “whole grain oats” and “whole grain barley.” So, don’t eat it!